This brief letter from John shouldn’t be perceived as a loose page of Apostolic records which got stapled into the back of the Bible. It is no afterthought. Rather, the sense which this book of the Bible gives is that of a well loved uncle slipping silver dollars to his nieces & nephews. It is both personal and pastoral in its tone, while its content is simple, succinct, and robust.
The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father. And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it. For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
John, the aged Apostle, writes to the Elect Lady & her children (v1). This seems to be a personal letter, although a case could be made that he is writing to a specific church and personifies it as a Mother & her children (Cf. Rev. 21:2, 9; Is. 45:1-7, Is. 62:2-5). More likely is that this is a particular woman, who perhaps hosted a church in her home. John greets these saints, expressing his love for them, this love is shared by all who’ve known the truth (v1). The Christian love expressed by John is to be a jewel in the crown of this indwelling and enduring truth (v2). The encouragements and warnings which will follow are set in the context of the Spirit’s work to give to us the grace, mercy, and peace which God sent His Son to procure for us (v3).
John is delighted to encourage this faithful Lady that he has recently met some of her children, and that they were walking in the truth according to the Father’s commandment (v4). This “well done” is followed by a “keep it up.” It is quite clear that John is reminding her of the content of His Gospel & earlier epistle; there’s no new doctrine here, loving one another has been the ethic of God’s people from the beginning (v5). The love which God commands is a love that is loyal to His eternal truth (v6).
Now we come to some warnings. The early church faced no shortage of deceivers, not unlike our own time. While there is a surplus of deceivers, they all have the same boring doctrine in common: Jesus Christ hasn’t come in the flesh (v7). This requires believers to vigilantly “look to yourselves”, in order to not lose the great reward which awaits the faithful (v8). The dividing line in the world is between those who try to hurdle Jesus, and those who abide in Him. Those who abide in Christ’s doctrine have the Father & Son (v9). John’s lengthier first letter stresses how faith in Christ is our certainty of fellowship with the triune God.
This Christian hostess is exhorted to not show hospitality nor even a word of blessing to any such deceivers who seek entry to the body of saints who gathered in her house (vv10-11; Cf. 2 Tim. 3:6, 1 Tim. 5:13). John’s farewell notes that there’s a lot more to be said, but that “face to face” is better (here is a good prooftext for why live-streamed church is less than ideal). Covenant joy between the covenant family is a true glory & joy (vv12-13).
TRUTH & LOVE
Look back at this first section, and see how often we find “truth & love” walking hand in hand. One thing that is made plain is that the love of God is not at odds with the truth of God, and vice versa. Rather, walking in the truth is how we love one another. Living by lies is the quickest way to breed hate & contempt.
Truth is the framing, the love is the furniture. Truth is the bowl, the love is the warm meal it contains. Truth is the skeleton, love is the lifeblood. As Paul teaches, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:10).” Everything contained in God’s revelation leads us to two duties: loving God & loving our neighbor. But this love is not defined by mere pleasant sensations, but by truth. This is where the modern mantra, “Love is love” becomes a devouring blackhole.
The flip side is also needful. Discernment bloggers may have their five points of Calvinism ironed out, but how do they speak to their wife, how do they give their money to the poor, are their children well loved? Christ came as the incarnation of God’s love for us (1 Jn. 4:9-10), and yet the central glory of His coming was the revelation of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14).
The background of John’s warning is principally the false teaching of Cerinthus. That rascal asserted that “the Christ/divinity” came upon Jesus the man at his baptism, deserting him upon the cross. This falsehood, if embraced, would leave you with an impotent Savior. Jesus would be reduced merely to a good example, not our representative & substitute.
There’s another insidious reality of this sort of false doctrine which we ought not overlook. Denial of Christ’s incarnation is never just a flat denial; rather, it always smuggles in a “Rival Christ”. If a mere man died on a tree, you have no fellowship with God. This leaves you to seek after some other pathway to the divine. Our Lord God, however, has called His church into fellowship with Himself through Christ alone. The Elect Lady has been betrothed to Christ. John wants the early church to cling to this identity as the New Israel of God, and not be seduced by any Rival Christs.
PROGRESSING PAST JESUS
The temptation which John is guarding us against is the temptation to embrace the false doctrine of “Jesus +”. This was clearly a problem in the early church with the various false teachers who were presenting Christ is a good “starting point” but insisting that there was greater illumination & knowledge to be had. Jesus was merely a step along the way, not the central point of it all.
This is still an allure for many professing Christians. They come to Jesus for some reason, but then begin insisting that true flourishing is found beyond Jesus. It’s in this diet. It’s in understanding this secret conspiracy which the world elite have hidden from you. It’s in sexual liberation. It’s in lifting weights, avoiding seed oils, being pronoun inclusive, checking your privilege, and on and on.
But Jesus is not a static reference point. You can’t treat Him as if he were merely the “you are here” dot on a mall map. He is far too great to be used as a starting point. He will not be confined. He will not be ignored. All attempts to go around Christ the Savior will inevitably still come face to face with Christ the King.
JESUS ONLY, EVER, ALWAYS
This is what it means to walk in the truth. God lavished His love upon You, in sending us His Son. Thus, Jesus is everything to you. Jesus in your waking and sleeping. Jesus in your work and rest. Jesus, ever, only, always. Don’t let this slip past you, John tells us what awaits those who diligently keep the faith: a full reward. Jesus died in your stead. Rose again by the power of God. By faith, clinging to Him alone, all your days, you receive a full reward. The reward is Christ, and the way to the reward is Christ.